Eco-Wallcoverings: Natural, Healthy Alternatives to Vinyl

Wood pulp and other natural fibers give walls a more natural look.

| November/December 2002

  • Made of cotton colored with silk, mica, and glitter, JaDecor is touted for its insulation qualities.
    Photography by Joe Coca
  • Blumenthal Alternative Wallcoverings’ Enigma line boasts the same virtues as vinyl, without the environmental drawbacks.
  • CDS Manufacturing’s Green Stone is made of natural minerals and recycled materials.
  • JaDecor comes in an endless pattern of palettes and colors.
  • Green Stone is available in more than a dozen formulations as well as customized designs.

Until recently, one word summed up the options available in alternative wallcoverings: limited. There were natural fibers in neutral tones, plaster blends, or paint. And that was about it.

Today, eco-friendly alternatives come in an array of fiber blends and glass fibers, from recycled wood to reclaimed waste, in textures as soft as silk or hard as rock. They can be pasted up, screwed on, or troweled smooth. And—perhaps the best news of all—many boast attributes even traditional coverings can’t claim.

For decades, vinyl reigned as the wallcovering king. In every category—tearability, scrubability, washability, color fastness, shrinkage, and resistance to cold, heat, mildew, and aging—the stuff couldn’t be beat (if you didn’t mind the outgassing and knowing that vinyl production releases dioxin into the environment). In terms of durability, there was no competition.

There is now. In fact, the market for vinyl alternatives is growing so rapidly that Rudy Mayer, president of Innovations, a designer and manufacturer of quality wallcoverings, says, “In the last six months, I’ve seen a new competitor come on the market at least once a month. It’s a huge, growing segment of the market.”

What exactly are vinyl alternatives? The definition varies slightly from one manufacturer to another, but generally, vinyl alternative wallcoverings are made from wood pulp and various recycled or reclaimed materials, including nylon and polyester. They’re colored with water-based inks and manufactured in single-layer construction, which means no second layer of backing to delaminate over time.

Like vinyl, they’re easily embossed; but unlike vinyl, which is nonporous, the alternative wallcoverings readily absorb ink, giving the finished product rich saturated color. As for price, Mayer says, “They cost us less to make, and that’s because there’s very little waste. They take less time to make and less energy to manufacture.”

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